Senior Editor Natalie Krebs came back from a restful week of hiking and paddling the Adirondacks with her mind still in the wilderness, and this question:
“What's the best shotgun for a backcountry trip? I want to know what you'd recommend for some rabid bird hunter who's hard on their gear and wants to pack five miles in and not come out of the woods or canyons for a week. I'd also be curious about a recommendation for turkeys...”
A backcountry gun needs to be rugged and reliable. It has to not break, since there’s not a lot of gunsmithing besides basic cleaning you can do around the campfire.
You could not go far wrong with a pump gun such as an older 870, an Ithaca 37, a Benelli Nova, or a Mossberg 500. All four guns have track records as military and/or law enforcement weapons. All four are worthy, but also boring and predictable choices. So is a semi-auto like a Benelli M2, which is probably what I’d carry if I were a mountain chukar hunter. Since firepower doesn’t matter much when targets don’t shoot back, I’m free to recommend the most reliable gun of all: a double gun with two triggers.
It's always believed that the best in-field repair kit is an extra gun. It’s not practical to pack an extra gun on a backcountry trip, though. But, what if your gun came with an extra gun attached to it? That would work, right? You can think of a double gun as a single-shot break action with an extra single shot break action on one side. Redundant systems abound: You get two barrels, two ejectors/extractors, two triggers, two firing pins, and both halves of the gun function more or less independently from each other. Chances are good that if something goes wrong with the gun, half of it will still work. If something goes wrong with your pump gun or your Benelli, you’re done hunting.
Besides, it’s likely nothing will go wrong with a double. The enclosed action keeps dirt and grit out of the action, and doubles will shoot in weather that will choke a pump or semi-auto. A break action will handle any misshapen shell you can cram into its chamber, whether it be a reload or the worst of Wal-Mart. Even inexpensive two-trigger doubles have very little that can go wrong. Single-trigger doubles are another story.
It’s tangentially relevant here that the Luftwaffe issued J.P. Sauer and Sohn drillings, with 12 gauge barrels over a 9.3x74 rifle barrel, as aircrew survival guns in World War II. A double shotgun or maybe a Cape gun (one smooth bore, one rifled barrel) would have been a better, simpler choice than a drilling, but Luftwaffe reichsmarschall Hermann Goring liked guns and had expensive tastes.
In former times in this country, you could choose among Fox Sterlingworths, Parker Trojans, and Lefever Nitro Specials if you wanted an affordable, durable gun. Or, you could buy a branded “hardware store” gun, likely from Crescent Arms. After WW II, your choices were limited to the tough and inexpensive Fox/Savage Model B or Stevens 311, or any one of a number of Spanish, Turkish, or Russian imports, some of which, like the Russian Baikals, hold up and some of which do not. Many of these guns had Modified and Full chokes. Load them with Winchester Long Beard if you want to take them turkey hunting, or regular field loads.